Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pricing the Correctional Free Lunch: Bill Facilitating County Jail Funding Passes Assembly

A new bill, AB94 (full text after amendments here), facilitating funding for county jails, was passed by the CA Assembly. Here's the stated purpose of the bill:

Existing law authorizes the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), participating counties, and the State Public Works Board (SPWB) to acquire, design, and construct local jail facilities approved by the Corrections Standards Authority (CSA). Existing law authorizes the SPWB to issue revenue bonds, notes, or bond anticipation notes in specified amounts to finance the acquisition, design, or construction, and a reasonable construction reserve, of approved local jail facilities, as specified. Existing law requires a minimum of 25% in county matching funds for projects funded under these provisions and requires the CDCR and CSA to give funding preference to counties that assist the state in siting reentry facilities, as specified. AB 111 of the 2011–12 Regular Session, if it becomes operative, instead requires that the CDCR and the CSA give funding preference to counties that committed the largest percentage of inmates to state custody in relation to the total inmate population of CDCR in 2010.

This bill would, if AB 111 of the 2011–12 Regular Session becomes operative, authorize counties that have received a conditional award under one specified jail facilities financing program to relinquish that award and reapply for a conditional award under a separate financing program, as specified. The bill would lower to 10% the required county contribution and additionally require the CDCR and CSA to give funding preference to those counties that relinquish those specified local jail construction conditional awards and agree to continue to assist the state in siting reentry facilities, as specified. The bill would cap at $100,000,000 the amount a county may receive in proceeds from SPWB’s issuance of bonds, notes, or bond anticipation notes under those specified provisions.

This bill would appropriate $1,000 from the General Fund to the CDCR for purposes of state operations to be used by the CSA in the 2011–12 fiscal year.

This bill would declare that it is to take effect immediately as an urgency statute and a bill providing for appropriations related to the Budget Bill.

From a humonetarian perspective, this bill essentially addresses the "correctional free lunch" problem identified by Zimring and Hawkings in The Scale of Imprisonment:

The parable of the free lunch is relevant to the discussion of prison population because prisons in the United States are. . . paid for at the state level of government out of state correctional budgets, but prison populations are determined by the number of prisoners referred by local officials and the length of sentences imposed at the local level. Since localities do not contribute to central state correctional budgets, the marginal cost of an extra prisoner may be zero at the local level of government, where the decision to confine is made.

Governor Schwarzenegger's reform shifted the incarceration for several offenses from state prisons to county jails in order to address overcrowding at the state level. This change was heavily criticized by conservative lawmakers for endangering public safety, and opposed by local jail authorities arguing that there was overcrowding at the lower level, too. The new bill would supposedly allow localities to build jails more easily by fronting less money from the county budget before receiving state assistance. On one hand, this indicates fiscal commitment to the welcome trend of shifting population from distant facilities to their communities. On the other hand, this may be another initiative in the "if you build it, they will come" vein, which does not bode well for a decrease in prison population at any level. Also, note that this compounds the correctional free lunch issue: Facilities are built by the locality, but the state assumes more fiscal responsibility for them in the initial stages. Let's stay tuned on this one.

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